As Adam might have said, I've been thinking. I've been thinking about Giant Dawn. Specifically, I've been wondering what the point of this plotline might be.
Of course, I'm working from the assumption here that there is one, unlike some of you doubters out there (you know who you are). :-)
But first, a pretty picture. Click on it for a wallpaper-sized version.
So. Why is Dawn a giant?
It's a metaphor
This is the obvious one - after all, it was the core idea of BtVS, at least in the early seasons. Even the characters themselves are well aware of the concept by the end of the show: "There this thing that happens here, in this school, over the Hellmouth. Where the way a thing feels — it kind of starts being that way...for real." (Buffy, 'Storyteller').
In 'The Long Way Home', therefore, Xander assumes that Dawn's giantness is a cry for attention, a reaction to feeling sidelined and abandoned. Joss even anticipates readers complaining that the metaphor isn't very subtle, by having Buffy protest about the very same thing! (Of course, predatory teachers actually eating schoolboys, ignored girls turning invisible, and boyfriends becoming soulless jerks after you sleep with them aren't exactly subtle either...) Buffy herself seems to think that Dawn's condition is a result of her having magically-unsafe sex, which is a different but equally powerful metaphor.
Which of them is right? Or maybe both, or neither? Personally, I suspect that Joss is deliberately playing with our expectations here. We all now presume that there'll be a big magical metaphor in any Buffy story: what was once fresh and surprising is now predictable. So instead he gives us a situation that everybody - even the characters themselves! - assumes must obviously be a metaphor, and just steps back and watches to see what we make of it.
In the light of many of Joss's own comments in interviews this seems to be one of the most important reasons why Dawn's a giant. It's a bit of whimsical, random humour, made possible by the unlimited special effects budget of comics. What surprises me is how some people react so badly to this idea. They seem personally offended: they complain in indignant tones about how Joss is being "self-indulgent", how the idea is "stupid" and "pointless". I wonder if they'd have said the same thing if someone had suggested doing an all-singing, all-dancing musical episode of the show, back in the day?
Of course you can't make a person find something amusing if they just don't, but at least it can't be said that the TV show never threw in random cool or funny ideas just for the sake of it, in between the high drama and emotional crises.
Personally, I'm disappointed that we haven't seen more GiantDawn crack!fic yet.owenthurman has investigated the possibilities of Buffy/Buffy now she has a double in Rome; but where's the GiantDawn/PersonMuchSmallerThanHer pr0n?
Yeah, yeah, I know. Nobody's writing it because fandom still clings to a tattered shred of sanity, decency and good taste.
Well, except for me. I've recently been bitten by a 50-foot tall plot-bunny with abandonment issues and giant-sized sexual frustration; but don't tell anyone.
It's establishing the background
Here, I suspect, is the real reason why Dawn's a giant - and also the reason why the official story to date has only featured her in brief scenes (much to the frustration, of course, of people who want an explanation for everything right away.) It shows us that Buffy and the other characters inhabit a living, breathing world which doesn't entirely revolve around the monster of the week.
This world has history: there have been previous events that they still have to deal with the consequences of; and future: and there are coming plot arcs to be resolved - since presumably Dawn will be the star of her own arc sooner or later. Probably in issues 11-14, from what I gather. The fact that Dawn's size is a subplot rather than the main focus of the story also serves to highlight the size of the job facing Buffy, since she (and the writers) clearly hasn't got much time to spare yet dealing with Dawn's issues.
Starting a story like this, in medias res - in the middle of things - and only getting round to the exposition later is a time-honoured literary technique, of course. It's found in works from Homer's Iliad to Lucas's Star Wars. Joss has also used it plenty of times: 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' itself features a Buffy who is already an experienced Slayer, and we are left to puzzle out what this actually means from her actions and other people's reactions. We don't actually get to see her Calling until the end of season 2 (assuming we've not seen the film), and it's a full seven years before we find out where Slayers come from and how they get their powers. Closer to home, we meet Dawn in 'Buffy versus Dracula' but don't learn why she's there for another four episodes.
The benefit of the technique is that we get straight to the action. We don't have to sit through several paragraphs of explanation telling us what's been happening and why; we're just shown it. Consider the effectiveness of the following two alternative opening paragraphs of a novel:
England in the future has been taken over by a bureaucratic and militaristic government. They are obsessed by the totalitarian need to extend their control to every aspect of their citizens' lives, and their power is far-reaching and all-pervading. Nothing can escape their grip, and nothing is too small to escape their notice.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
By thinking about the implications of the second alternative, we can draw all the conclusions that the first sets out for us explicitly - and do so without being sent to sleep by long-drawn-out exposition. Of course, this does require the author to trust the intelligence of his or her readers. :-)
This brings us to the overriding question: why is Joss writing Season 8 now? The initial interviews said that he realised there was a story he wanted to write using these characters. Please note the difference between that and "he wanted to write stories about these characters"! He has a specific idea in mind - in his own words:
"It's about the ramifications of everything that happened in Season 7. At the end of the show, Buffy made every girl who might be a potential vampire slayer into a fully realized slayer with all the remembered history and powers, so she's made a big change in the way the world works. The comic will be dealing with that when we pick up the story several months later."In other words, he's telling a story about what happens when a group of fairly ordinary people suddenly find themselves having great power, and what they do with it. aycheb has pointed out the implications of public accountability when you can no longer operate in secret; I've written meta on how power relates to issues of consent and identity. I'm sure more questions will be raised in future story arcs.
Here's the thing, though. Because Joss wanted to write this particular story, he had to move things along to the point where the story could start. He's writing about "women with power", not "women processing their grief over lost loved ones, tracking down other women with power and explaining things to them, enjoying a holiday shopping and nightclubbing in Rome, and arranging premises and funding." He can skip over those things because they're not important to the story he's telling here, and he trusts us to fill in the blanks ourselves.
Maybe it's a misplaced trust? I hope not. After all, "filling in the blanks" is one of the strengths of fanfic, and what Joss is writing? It isn't fanfic. :-)
Now back to my GD crack!fic. Where else can you use the expression "picking up guys" and mean it perfectly literally?